Mangok Mathiang

Thursday’s Pregame Shootaround: A major AAC battle takes place

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 13 Cincinnati at No. 12 Louisville, 7:00 p.m.

The biggest game of the season in the American will be taking place at the Yum! Center tonight. Cincinnati has been the best team in the conference all year long, jumping out to a 19-2 record and an 8-0 start in league play. But Louisville has long been considered the favorite to win the league in their only season as a member, and it looks like they have finally turned a corner this season.

Cincinnati is big and physical, surviving on their defense and rebounding to win games. The good news for Mick Cronin? Justin Jackson, the anchor for this group defensively, will play after rolling his ankle on Sunday. Louisville is getting healthy as well, as Chris Jones will be back in the lineup, although his presence may not be quite as beneficial as Jackson’s is to Cincinnati.

Whatever the case, this is not only for first place in the conference, but for a chance to mark down the best win of the season on either side. Is Cincy for real? Has Louisville really turned things around? We’ll see tonight.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE NIGHT: Chattanooga at Davidson, 7:00 p.m.

Davidson has been the power in the SoCon over the course of the last few years, but Chattanooga looks dangerous this season. Will Wade’s team has reeled off 10 straight wins, including an 8-0 start to league play. Win at Davidson, and the Mocs will have firm control of the SoCon race.

MUST-WIN OF THE NIGHT: Providence at Marquette, 7:00 p.m.

The Friars didn’t do enough in non-conference play to truly solidify their standing as an NCAA tournament team. They also haven’t done enough on the road to be considered more than a home-cooking expert at this point in the season. Marquette? Well, they just can’t afford to lose too many more games before their name cache stops getting them the benefit of the doubt.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) They may not have Chris Walker yet, but No. 3 Florida plays at Mississippi State at 7:00 p.m.

2) Purdue will pay a visit to streaking No. 10 Michigan, who recently took over firm control of the Big Ten race by winning at Michigan State.

3) Houston heads to UConn where the Huskies will look to get revenge for the loss they suffered on New Year’s Eve.

4) It’s UCLA’s turn to stake a claim to being the second-best team in the Pac-12, but Oregon, for all their troubles this season, is one of the most talented teams in the league. Expect a lot of scoring.

5) A pair of key smaller conference league games: Louisiana Tech will play at UTEP with first place on the line, and Bryant visits Robert Morris, who is undefeated but without four rotation players.

Postponed games:

  • Mercer at East Tennessee State
  • Kennesaw State at USC-Upstate
  • South Alabama at Georgia State
  • Samford at Furman

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.